Imagine a nation that can summon national commanders for just 7 gems, with map-move 3, forest survival, and 40 leadership. So far, she sounds kind of like an overpriced mound king without even the undead leadership, though she does have fortune teller 15, which is a nice perk, I guess.
So let's add in that she's actually pretty decent in combat. She has 58 HP. Her innate melee attack is decent, skill 12, 21 damage, but more often she'll use size 5 trample instead, with 20 movement points (more than most elephants!) only 2 encumbrance (better than most elephants) and 15 morale and 14 magic resistance (much better than most tramplers). Admittedly, she has only the two misc slots, her protection (10 basic) is underwhelming, and her base defense (9) is subpar. But, I guess I should mention, she is SACRED, so you can add whatever bells and whistles you like in pretender design, and she'll benefit from pretty much the same blesses as your national sacred units do. Hopefully, at this point this is already sounding like a plausible way to spend 7 gems, just for this commander herself.
But wait, there's more!
Every turn, this commander freespawns multiple miniature versions of herself: 20 HP size 3 tramplers, with slightly reduced stats, and undisciplined, but equally SACRED. The number of freespawn you get depends on dominion strength, but in a province with dominion 9, it averages 3 sacred freespawn baby tramplers per mother per month. This means that a modest investment of 49 gems will give you a never-ending supply of 21 new sacred tramplers per turn, every turn for the rest of the game, all with no upkeep whatsoever, and no strings attached. 21 sacred tramplers led by a 65 gold national priest-general are enough to raid pretty much any unsupported PD, or make a great addition to battle lines, scattering enemy infantry to let your national infantry easily gank the remnants.
But why stop at 49 gems? It's quite doable to have spent 200 gems on this by the end of year 2, which gives you a new army of 84 sacred tramplers every turn, for free for the rest of the game. This is enough tramplers to simply overrun many nations' full monthly production of units+mages, but you're getting it for absolutely free every month, in *addition* to whatever you want to spend your gold and new gems on.
In my view, this is an incredible opportunity, and any nation that has access to this pretty much has to take advantage of it, even if the units in question just look like a bunch of pigs.
And that brings us to EA Marverni...
---- Sacreds, Blesses, and Pretender Design ----
Our core unit is the Great Boar of Carnutes. She costs 7 N-gems, and has all the stats described above. Any of your many E1N1 mages can cast them at Conjuration-5, and the sooner you can summon the mothers, the moar baby boars they'll freespawn, so this is a key early research goal. I usually detour through Evoc-1 to let your national S1 labrats be a bit useful in battle by casting star-fires, if needed. At Conj-3 you get another spell that can summon a mass of 20 baby boars all at once, which can help a lot if you get rushed. And Conj-4 gives you Light of the Northern Star which can turn your numerous S1 mages into more potent S2's in a pinch.
Almost every N-gem you get should get turned straight into boars. Think of every two N-gems as basically being another baby boar every turn for the rest of the game. In other words, each N-gem translates into about 6 free sacred baby boars per year for the rest of the game. It's hard to find a better rate of return for N-gems than that. Indeed, I usually find it hard to find better uses for S-pearls, than alchemizing many of them intoN-gems to further super-charge the boar factories. (It takes about four pearls to yield another free baby boar per turn, or equivalently each pearl translates into about 3 free baby boars per year, for the rest of the game.)
Free-spawn baby boars will be well worth their incremental costs (free!) even without a bless, but they really start to shine with a good bless. By far, the best major bless for them is W9. This is great because it makes them move 50% faster (24 rather than 16), which lets them close on enemies quicker and trample them more times each round. It also provides a much needed +4 defense which helps a lot to let them dodge melee hits from the disorganize infantry or archers that they're wading through. There's a lot to be said for N9 bless also, as it greatly increases their survivability, and also reduces the risk of getting career ending afflictions, esp. being crippled. The other blesses potentially worth considering are E9 (no diminishing returns with the basic protection of the boars, reinvig never hurts), S9 (baby boars have dismal MR, and battles end quickly enough that a single twist of fate on each boar can make a huge difference), and B9 (which doesn't make the boars trample any better, but does make them into a terrible death trap for enemy evocation mages!). Since your sacreds will kill mostly with trample, they won't make much use of buffs to their weapons (Fx, F9, D9, Ax, Bx) and the survival boosts from the other blesses (Dx, A9) don't really compare to that from Wx, N9 and E9.
If you're getting any sort of bless, you'll probably also lean heavily upon Marv's cap-only Boar Warriors, which are solid sacred units. W9 works great on them too, giving them solid defense even after going berserk, and giving them even moar opportunities for their heavy attacks to connect. Berserk adds a constant amount of fatigue per round, so W9 actually makes them *more* fatigue-efficient by letting them swing their weapons more times per constant fatigue gain, though fatigue would definitely be an issue in a long battle. Fortunately, most of your battles won't be long, because Boar Warriors kill things fast, especially when you have a bunch of baby boars charging through and breaking up enemy formations too. Even with an E9 bless, fatigue will mount in a long battle, so it's typically better not to try to fight mounting fatigue with reinvigoration, but instead to fight it by ending the battle quicker. N9 is probably better for them, keeping them alive after they go berserk, and keeping them from accumulating bad afflictions. Boar warriors also won't mind Sx and S9, and they'll make decent use of Bx.
You also have quite a few sacred mages, and really appreciate lizard shaman communion slaves if you get lucky enough to find a lizard province. These will make the most use of Ex and N9 blesses (or Ax, but nothing else wants that). An N9 bless also makes it easy to use a shroud to counteract disease. So these considerations might weigh a bit in favor of Ex or N9, though probably not a lot.
Unfortunately Marv doesn't necessarily have the best pretenders for the blesses it wants. Probably the best is the Volla of the Bountiful Forest who gives you W9N4 or W9N9. A Forest Lord with N9E4 or N9E9 would be alright. An S9 oracle or B9 blood fountain would be dirt cheap, and give you great scales. You might also tinker with an B9N9 Lord of the Wild (the ultimate F-you for enemy mages!), or a W9S9oracle or W9B9 fountain.
It's a tough call whether to invest more in a double bless. My experience with Marv is that I end up fielding more sacreds than I do with pretty much any nation, so it's pretty easy to justify an expensive bless. Really, the main limiting factor on the core of your army is N-gems and cheap mages (45-gold) and commanders (50-65 gold), so as long as you aren't sacrificing luck or your ability to expand, you'll get a good return on investing in a bless.
---- Scales ----
Candles: This needs to be at least 7, though 8 is a lot better. Your temples are cheap (200 gold) so it isn't that hard to bring your dominion up to at least 9, which is needed for optimal boar breeding. If you get a decent bless, boar warriors will be the key to early expansion, so you want to be able to recruit a lot of those ASAP too.
Production: You need at least neutral scales to have a good chance of being able to produce Boar Warriors at full speed. Extra points can help, especially for early expansion, but aren't totally needed.
Turmoil-Luck: I think this is actually better for Marv than Order-Misfortune is. Either way, you do have ubiquitous fortune tellers (your Sesquani research mages, and all your Great Boars), which will help to mitigate the negative consequences of Turmoil or Misfortune. Most of your turn-to-turn recruiting is on cheap 45-gold mages, and cap-only sacreds, which Turmoil can fund alright, with occasional big expenditures on infrastructure or bigger mages, which you can do whenever the big lucky windfalls come in. Marv has two excellent heroes, mages withX4Y2Z2H2, that you'll really appreciate having come out early due to luck. Luck has a good chance of helping you break you into your non-existent magic paths (F/D/A/B), and it will give you extra gems to turn into even MOAR BOARS! Ultimately, one of your main limiting factors is how many N-gems you have to turn into endless supplies of boars (or other gems you have to alchemize into boars). Order never gives you more gems (except insofar as it helps you to conquer more provinces, or buy more site-searchers) so Luck is often better.
Growth: You have old mages, so growth-1 is important. I really like squeezing in Growth-2 if possible. I think growth may also be a pre-requisite for some N-gem events, and you want all the N-gems you can get.
Magic: Your core researcher is the 45-gold S1 Sesquani Stargazer (7 base research points), and he really appreciates whatever magic-scales you can give him. You need at least Magic-1 to enable a lot of lucky gem events, but squeezing in a point or two more is great too.
Cold: Cold is probably better than hot because rivers are more common than mountain passes, and because you have W-mages that synergize better with cold. Cold-1 is my norm for nations like this. Cold-3 hurts income in your dominion and worsens fatigue issues in defensive battles, but it isn't a terrible way to pick up design points, and it has the dubious benefit of meaning that winter won't make your income any *worse*. In games with lots of thrones, I also like extreme negative scales picks, because then you won't feel bad taking the throne of winter (won't make things any *worse*) and you'll be delighted with throne of summer. (On the flip side, I often avoid picking 3 positive scales, esp. Order and Growth, because thrones that improve these are common, and I'd hate to waste the benefit.)
Your core researcher and battle mage is the S1 Sesquani Stargazer (purple robe), 45 gold. In battles with lots of boars, the best use for these is usually to scatter them around and spam body ethereal on your boars, or use them as communion slaves for big buff spells. In battles without lots of boars, you can cast light of the northern star and let these spam stellar cascades, or again you can use them as communion slaves to fuel bigger spells. When using communions, it's usually best to include masters who cast personal regeneration and summon earthpower to help keep the slaves from burning out.
You'll probably recruit a few Gutuators (orange robe), 135 gold. They provide your most reliable access to N2 for site-searching and battle-buffs like wooden warriors. N1W1 gutuators can site search for W (if you don't happen to have a great druid doing that), and otherwise will likely do research. N1E1 gutuators are your core summoners for great boars (though don't be shy to use great/ordinary druids too to get moar boars quicker) and otherwise often end up researching. N1S1 Gutuators can join communions, so make great candidates to cast Divine Blessing (with 4 slaves) when your boar-armies get too big to bless piecemeal, and big N buffs. Also rememember to have an N1S1 master cast personal-regeneration to greatly decrease the risk that your slave-batteries will get burned out. Gutuators have H1 and forest survival, so they're sometimes the easiest priests to fast-respond to a location alongside your forest-surviving boars and boar warriors, so keep them in mind as back-up priests if you need them.
Eventually you'll want a few Druids (grey robe, wielding twig), 185 gold. These all can join communions and cast summon earthpower (and often ironskin) to help keep slaves alive. E2S1 druids are your cheapest source for E2 battle-magic (boosted to E3 with summon earthpower, or higher with communion slaves or earth boots) and can spam gifts from heaven. E1S1W1 druids can cast W spells in communions if you want, e.g., for cold resistance. S2E1 druids are your easiest outside-of-capital way to cast light of the northern star with a booster or small communion if you want your other mages to spam stellar cascades, and are also good candidates to cast other big astral spells, especially anti-magic. E1S1N1 druids are expensive jacks of all trades, usable as boar summoners, communion masters, or even as communion slaves that will last fairly well through spells from all three paths, especially if a master casts power-of-the-spheres which will boost all paths for slaves too, and especially if you have an N9 or Ex bless.
You'll want a fair number of your cap-only, slow-to-recruit Elder Druids (grey robe, wielding golden sickle), 345 gold. These are your best site-searchers, your best forgers of expensive items, your best free-standing battle-mages, and your easiest way of accessing high-level spells in communions (though anything they can reach, cheaper mages can reach too with bigger communions). Thanks to their 2.1 random picks (fromE/S/N/W), added to a base E2S2H2, you'll get a wide variety of different Elder Druids. Especially notable are W2 ones (your only access to W2), N2 ones (your only non-hero access to moonvine bracelets), and ones with E3/E4 or S3/S4, which you can't access in other ways. Anything a Druid does, an Elder Druid does better, albeit more expensively, so I usually don't buy Druids until well after I'm maxing out my recruitment of Elder druids. Early in the game, don't be shy about fore-going Elder-Druid production, as you don't really *need* them, whereas you do need to get up infrastructure like forts+labs and lots of temples. I often buy a few after my first fort for site-seeking (when I don't get the heroes, which are better), and then revert back to more stargazers until my infrastructure is well-established.
Your best priest-leader is the Vergobret (red robes), 65 gold, for 80 leadership, but without the inspiration that 80 leadership often comes with. I often recruit a couple to lead expansion parties very early, and when you reach the point where you're swimming in boars, you'll need to recruit more to ferry them around and bless them. Whenever you have a fort+temple with no lab, it doesn't hurt to churn these out.
Your best go-to general is probably the Marverni Chieftain (green pants), just 50 gold for 60 leadership +1 inspiration. You have a few other flavors of national leaders but they usually aren't enough better to justify the expense. If you ever have a fort with neither lab nor temple, it doesn't hurt to recruit one of these, or a scout.
Occasionally you might want an Eponi Chieftain (mounted). For 100 gold, you get +2 morale and a third squad, and you can map-move-3 through open land, to keep up with all your boars. But this usually won't be much better than two Marv Chieftains.
Indy priests. It makes sense to build a 200-gold temple on a human province very early, so you won't have to recruit blessing priests in your capital, so can instead focus just on cheap stargazers or expensive elder-druids.
Indy commanders. Similarly, it makes sense to recruit these early on to lead your expansion parties.
Your most numerous troop will be free-spawned baby boars, officially called "great boars" in game. I described them in the introduction: 20 HP, size 3 tramplers with a decent melee attack, lackluster defense (9), lackluster protection (6), dismal MR (5). Probably not worth summoning manually (via a level-3 conjuration spell), but excellent for free-spawn hordes. AFAIK, there are only 3 other freespawnable sacreds in the game: MA Ermor's lictors (very solid infantry, but much more expensive to set up freespawning of), beast bats (decent flier, freespawnable off a high level blood summon for meso-american nations, and off a very expensive STR cap-only mage for EA Xibalba), and Supaya (excellent ethereal fliers, freespawnable by Nazca mummies that are expensive to recruit and pay upkeep upon, brokenly overpowered and about to be patched). That's a pretty exclusive club, and baby boars stand out as being tremendously cheaper and easier to amass than all these others, without actually being all that much worse of units. Worse on a 1:1 basis, yes, but not at all worse when you take into account the fact that you can very easily free-spawn 10x as many boars as any of these other freespawn.
When you research Alt-6, you can cast Iron Pigs, which apparently doesn't give Marverni the same 7 boring little piggies that it gives to other nations, but instead yields 7 excellent Iron Boars, which are a significantly improved version of your baby boars: HP boosted from 20 to 25, protection boosted from 6 to 20, newly disciplined, still sacred, at the mere cost of 5 shock-vulnerability, and 2 movement points. Well, that and you have to pay 10 E-gems for 7 of them. In many nations, that would be a truly excellent summon spell. In Marv, by the time you reach Alt-6, you'll already have a ton of size-3 tramplers freespawning every turn, so you'll get diminishing returns summoning even more of the same -- even if it's a slightly souped up more of the same -- so it often will be wiser to forego these, and instead spend your gems diversifying your threats.
Your primary recruitable unit is the Cap-Only sacred Boar Warrior (red pants, brown hood), for 30 gold, 15 resources. You'll want to recruit as many of these as possible every turn. You'll often want them near the very back of the field on hold and attack, so they can get blessed and let enemy units spread out as they approach. Tis often good to have a few body-guards back on your priests to protect them if any flankers make it around. When damaged, the Boar Warriors go berserk, achieving very solid protection, a very powerful attack, and unroutability, at the cost of dismal defense (which can be redeemed by W9) and accumulating fatigue.
The only other national troop that I regularly recruit is the Marverni Noble Warrior, who is a semi-elite medium infantry who can help out in early expansion if you have the spare resources. When you don't *need* them, it's usually better to skip them and build more forts+labs+temples instead. Once you have moar boars, you don't need Noble Warriors much at all for most armies. However a line of them can be great to hold things in place while you kill them with mages, indeed much better for this than any of your speedy W9-blessed sacreds, so feel free to fall back on these later in the game as you're trying to diversify your threats.
You do have a variety of other troops, including a cheap slinger with shield, a bunch of bare-chested chaff, an overpriced pony, and two expensive semi-elite troops who usually aren't enough better than a Marv Noble to justify the extra cost.
Indy heavy cavalry (esp. the 30-gold red ones): During expansion, these are fairly similar to W9-blessed boar warriors and supplement them nicely. I've recruited them and not really regretted it much, but you'll want to phase them out to free up gold for infrastructure.
---- Putting it all together ----
Early expansion revolves around small bands of boar warriors, supplemented with whatever Marv Nobles, indy infantry, and indy heavy cavalry you can scrounge up. With a good bless this will go smoothly. Without a good bless, you'll probably want production scales or dip into bare chests to help the early expansion.
An early goal should be to get up a 200 gold temple on a human province, to free your capital from recruiting priests, and to find a source of indy commanders to free your capital from recruiting generals. Then just recruit stargazers to free up the sacred recruitment slot for boar warriors. Once you have your first fort(s) on the way, you can start squeezing out some Elder Druids for site searching. Be careful putting forts near your capital, as you'll want to have at least enough resources there (140) to recruit 9 boar warriors and an Elder Druid each turn. If you want roads, go for the 800 gold fortress; otherwise spam out 600-gold palisades.
As you're transitioning out of rapid expansion into early infrastructure development, it makes sense to cut needless expenditures, on any troops besides your core sacreds.
Site searching is especially important too, especially for N, S and E. If you play luck scales, there's a good chance you'll get a hero with N2-N4in the first year. Otherwise, you may want to recruit as many gutuators as it takes to get some N2 site-searchers, and some E1N1 boar summoners. I usually can justify buying a thistle-mace to make N2 site-searchers find more sites, one of the few ways to justify spending N-gems on something other than boars. Watch for indy provinces, esp. amazons, that can help you branch into other paths. I'll sometimes recruit wolf-tribe shamans long enough to get a single D1, who can single-handedly work you into death, via site-searching, empowerment, forging a skull staff, and summoning.
Probably soon after your first fort(s) start adding on researchers, you'll hit Conj-5, and the boar summoning can begin. At this point, if not before, you should probably shift all your gold-spending to sacreds, mages and infrastructure. You'll want to build enough 200-gold temples to raise your Dom-score to 9, and to make one or more stable Dom9 pockets where your mother boars can hang out for optimal breeding. I haven't noticed whether Dom 10 adds further improvement over Dom 9, but Dom 9 is needed to allow a chance at 5 baby boars per turn. As far as I've been able to ascertain, each mother generates a single N-sided die of babies each month, where N is the province's dominion divided by 2, rounded up. It's most efficient to let your mother boars stay in max dominion, and have other commanders escort their babies out to battle, but don't feel bad if you occasionally send a mother to carpool a herd of babies out to a medium dominion province to meet a waiting commander.
Baby boars are undisciplined, so you have to significantly change your troop layouts once they join. I usually put my infantry 3/4 of the way forward on hold-and-attack, so that they'll start running at about the same time as undisciplined boars starting clear at the back get there. Priests set just behind the infantry can bless them and the advancing boars. For big armies with lots of boars, it's usually worth sending an N1S1gutuator with 4+ communion slaves to cast divine blessing, rather than fiddling with a bunch of priests. It's often worth having the gutuator carry a clam, and use the two temp-pearls to cast power of the spheres (increases slaves' staying power and gives you access to higher spells) and anti-magic. The best 5th spell is often personal regeneration, as this will help ensure that the slaves won't get burned out by further casting.
Hoards of boars expand quickly through enemy territory and tear down castle walls really quickly: 15-strength freespawn count as 2.25 normal humans for tearing down walls. The enemy's only real hope of stopping the hordes is with mage trickery, massed buffed archers, or elite units that are too big to trample. Your baby boars aren't completely terrible in melee combat, with an 11-skill 15-damage attack, increasable to 19 damage with easily castable strength of giants, and increasable to a normal 3 attacks per tile with W9 bless, so you can often solve the giant problem (and most problems) just by throwing moar boars at it. But sometimes it's worth breaking out alternative attacks. Here are some of the alternatives you have available.
* Boar warriors are great at ripping apart giants and decent at withstanding arrows, so send more of those to the front that most needs them, and use your baby boars for other purposes, like raiding PD or defending other fronts. Marverni Nobles are recruitable in any fort, and are a solid filler if you need more good infantry.
* Your communions give you easy access to a wide variety of buff spells that might turn tough battles into winnable ones, especially body ethereal, antimagic, strength of giants, fanaticism (the H4 morale spell), mass luck spells, mass regeneration, relief, growing fury, various elemental protection spells, and various basic protection spells (e.g., wooden warriors, marble warriors, legions of steel). Most of these buffs are a great way of getting extra mileage out of your hordes of freespawn.
* If armored troops are causing you problems, you can easily spam destruction to strip their armor away. This doesn't even affect your baby boars, so don't worry about friendly fire on them. (Do try to keep it off your recruitable boar warriors though.) Against armored giants, the battle-field-wide Iron Bane will rust all their armor again leaving your boars unaffected. This isn't so useful against size-2 units though, because trample apparently doesn't break rusted armor. Against armored giants though, boars switch to melee attacks and can break rusted armor, and the squishy units hiding inside, very quickly.
* Giant troops elite enough to withstand hordes of baby boars will usually be fairly small in number, so light of northern star --> stellar cascades spam with your cheap S1 mages can usually shut them down cold. If you use baby boars to lock the giants in place, you'll need to put your S1's dangerously far forward. It may make sense to recruit a bunch of Marv Nobles instead to hold-and-attack and keep the battle lines closer to your side of the field.
* Similarly, you have easy access to gifts from heaven, a not-at-all-subtle way of smashing anything that's too big for boars to run over. When brute force isn't enough, get a bigger brute.
* An Elder Druid can easily cast Earthquake (even round #1) which will wreck most enemy mages and archers, and has a good chance of surviving an earthquake or three if you give him good armor and/or bless him with good N/W bless. A communion of quickened, iron-skinned, personal-regenerating slaves can withstand repeated earthquakes, if there's a huge army that you can't break apart any other way. E2 druids late in the queue can carry a master matrix and only need 4 surviving slaves to cast a round 1 earthquake (or just 2 slaves, if they wear earth boots). Again armors can help the masters survive, and your nation is swimming in disposable 45-gold slaves.
* Less destructive to your own units, you have easy access to tons of Blade Winds which also can shred massed archers before they have a chance to buff, and may manage to hit some mages too. Marble warriors also makes your units close-to-impervious to archers.
Hordes of boars aren't the final answer, but they do pose a constant threat, and always demand a response. As the preceding list shows, you have plenty of worthy counter-responses available, which can be fun to put forward in the eternal strategy game of rock-paper-scissors. Even as you're switching to these counter-responses, you can still throw tons of free-spawn boars at lots of provinces. Sure, some of them will die miserably to whatever counter-measures the enemy has managed to put together, but chances are they won't have counter-measures *everywhere* so your freespawn will still gain you some ground, while you use your income and gems to counteract their bigger threats.